What they are saying is
that there is life there, too;
that the universe is the size it is
to enable us to catch up.
They have gone on from the human;
that shining is a reflection
of their intelligence. Godhead
is the colonisation by mind
of untenanted space. It is its own
light, a statement beyond language
of conceptual truth. Every night
is a rinsing myself of the darkness
that is in my veins. I let the stars inject me
with fire, silent as it is far,
but certain in its cauterising
of my despair. I am a slow
traveller. But there is more than time
to arrive. Resting in the intervals
of my breathing, I pick up the signals
relayed to me from a periphery I comprehend.
by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)
The road unwinding under our wheels
New in the headlamps like a roll of foil.
The rain is a recorder writing tunes
In telegraph wires, kerbs and cats’ eyes,
Reflections and the lights of little towns.
He turns his head to look at me.
“Why are you quiet?” Shiny road rhythm,
Rain rhythm, beat of the windscreen wipers,
I push my knee against his in the warmth
And the car thrusts the dark and rain away.
The child sleeps, and I reflect, as I breathe
His brown hair, and watch the apple they gave him
Held in his hot hands, that a tree must ache
With the sweet weight of the round rosy fruit,
As I with Dylan’s head, nodding on its stalk.
by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial, Gwasg Gomer, 1978)
Plain song of owl
moonlight between cruciform
shadows of hunting.
She sings again
in the sycamore,
her coming quieter
than the wash
behind the wave,
her absence darker
in the leaves’ tabernacle.
Stations of the dark.
A flame floats on oil
in her amber eye.
by Gillian Clarke
from New Poems
From the dimly lit hall
you slipped out in a light shawl.
The servants slept on,
we disturbed no one…
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by James Greene
Evans? Yes, many a time
I came down his bare flight
Of stairs into the gaunt kitchen
With its wood fire, where crickets sang
Accompaniment to the black kettle’s
Whine, and so into the cold
Dark to smother in the thick tide
Of night that drifted about the walls
Of his stark farm on the hill ridge.
It was not the dark filling my eyes
And mouth appalled me; not even the drip
Of rain like blood from the one tree
Weather-tortured. It was the dark
Silting the veins of that sick man
I left stranded upon the vast
And lonely shore of his bleak bed.
by R. S. Thomas
from Poetry for Supper (1958)
Why east wind chills and south wind cools
Shall not be known till windwell dries
And west’s no longer drowned
In winds that bring the fruit and rind
Of many a hundred falls;
Why silk is soft and the stone wounds
The child shall question all his days.
Why night-time rain and the breast’s blood
Both quench his thirst he’ll have a black reply.
When cometh Jack Frost? the children ask.
Shall they clasp a comet in their fists?
Not till, from high and low, their dust
Sprinkles in children’s eyes a long-last sleep
And dusk is crowded with the children’s ghosts,
Shall a white answer echo from the rooftops.
All things are known; the stars’ advice
Calls some content to travel with the winds,
Though what the stars ask as they round
Time upon time the towers of the skies
Is heard but little till the stars go out.
I hear content, and ‘Be content’
Ring like a handbell through the corridors,
And ‘Know no answer,’ and I know
No answer to the children’s cry
Of echo’s answer and the man of frost
And ghostly comets over the raised fists.
by Dylan Thomas
For O. A. Kuzmin-Karavaev
‘If we could only reach the shore,
My dear!’ – ‘Sh! Be quiet!’…
And we started down the stairs,
Hardly breathing, searching for keys.
Past the house where we had once
Danced and drunk wine,
Past the Senate’s white columns
To where it was dark, dark.
‘What are you doing? You’re mad!’ –
‘Not mad. In love with you!
This wind is wide and billowing,
Gaily it will take the ship!
Throat tight with horror,
The canoe took us in the gloom…
The tang of an ocean cable
Burnt my trembling nostrils.
‘Tell me – if you know youself:
Am I asleep? Is this a dream? …’
Only the oars splashed evenly
Along the heavy Neva wave.
But the black sky grew lighter,
Someone called to us from a bridge.
With both hands I seized the chain
Of the cross on my breast.
Powerless, I was lifted in your arms
Like a young girl on to the deck
Of the white yacht, to meet the light
Of incorruptible day.
– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1914)
– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas